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The Top 50: #15-11

#15 – Xenon

Released: 1988
Developer: Bitmap Brothers
Publisher: Melbourne House
Genre: Shoot ’em ‘up

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Captain Xod’s run into a Xenite ambush and unless you can blast your way through 16 sectors of the Xenite scum to reach him in time, he’ll be on the receiving end of a nasty face-hugging from one of those squiggly things we all had nightmares about after we saw Aliens.

Anyone who tries to tell you that graphics make a game need an education. Sit them down with a copy of this and its sequel and watch the epiphany grip them. Xenon II is certainly more beautiful, with its snazzy parallax and what-not, but the original shines where it matters most.

As you make your way up the vertically scrolling levels, you can morph between a ground-based tank or a airborne ship with a deft press of the space key. This adds a tactical risk/reward dilemma: often you can only destroy a wave of enemy craft (and therefore glean the available points) if you are at the same elevation as them, but by matching their elevation, you become more susceptible to their attacks. More than just points are available: as enemy craft and gun turrets are destroyed, upgrades for your craft can be collected, adding drones, lasers and smart bombs to your arsenal.

It’s as hard as a bronze statue of Stu Pearce, but somehow keeps you coming back for more punishment. Every go you get just that little bit further, and you are compelled to keep playing until you see the various bosses and new scenery that you just know are around the corner.

#14 – Starglider

Released: 1986
Developer: Argonaut
Publisher: Rainbird
Genre: 3D Shoot ’em ‘up

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The Atari Power Pack of 20 games bundled with my ST when I was it was given to me for Christmas was a revelation. Conversions of great Sega coin-ops, fiendish puzzlers and top draw shooters all provided plenty of entertainment that Chrimbo morn. Starglider, however was the game that knocked me for six and left me in no doubt that I was well and truly within the glorious grip of the 16-bit era.

This is because Starglider sang to me. Sang to me! I couldn’t believe my ears! Sure, listening to the tune now, it’s a crackly sampled piece of dodgy eighties techno-rock that lasts all of ten seconds, but to my 8-bit trained ears this and the in-game speech were trumpet calls heralding the future of video games. The game itself wasn’t bad either.

While sat in the pilot seat of your AGAV fighter, you must rid the planet Novenia of its mechanoid Egron invaders using your state-of-the-art ship’s lasers and guided missiles. For all the depth implied by the novella included in the box, this game is simple vector based blaster: shoot everything that moves in return for points, and avoid being blasted by enemy lasers. If your fuel or shield energy begins to wane, you can dock with a silo for a top up. Here you can top up your missile supply as well as get some valuable info on the foes you are likely to encounter.

Heavily inspired by the Star Wars arcade hit, it’s easy to see the Atari coin-op’s influence here. Starglider did a good job of bringing its mentor’s fast, fluid gameplay to the home, while offering more depth and freedom of movement.
#13 – Defender Of The Crown

Released: 1987
Developer: Master Design Software
Publisher: Cinemaware
Genre: Strategy

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The King is dead! Long live the King! … Err, who is the next king? Let’s have a bit of a scrum to find out shall we?

Playing as one of four Saxon knights, you must see off the Norman invaders as you vie for your ascendancy to the throne. You start the game with a solitary castle and a pitiful 10 men. It is from this lowly status that you must build your army, expand into other territories, loot and lay siege to castles, and do battle with your Saxon rivals and Norman enemies. Other distractions include the obligatory damsel rescue, a spot of jousting (Which I always found excruciatingly difficult).

Defender Of The Crown really blew the doors off for graphics on 16-bit machines. The art direction of James Sachs was way ahead of its 1986 vintage and was used by many retail outlets to showcase the power of the new machines (not to mention by people wanting to show off to their mates).

Though sacrificing colour due to hardware limitations, the ST version included many features that the Amiga version lacked, due to the Commodore machine’s release being somewhat rushed.

Though not a strategy game of any real depth or longevity, the first play through of DOTC was a memorable experience thanks to its extraordinary presentation and production values.

#12 – Captive

Released: 1990
Developer: Antony Crowther
Publisher: Mindscape
Genre: RPG

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Captive is huge. Unbelievably vast. Its creator once said that to fully complete it would take forty years. Better get cracking then…

You are a prisoner on a starship in turmoil. Your only hope of escape is the laptop left behind in your cell. Upon booting up this laptop, you discover you have remote access to four droids. In order to break out of your jail you must successfully guide them to bases on many different planets in order to find and destroy the power generators that keep you confined.

Featuring the same real-time pseudo-3D graphics and user interface made famous by Dungeon Master, Captive procedurally generates each level you visit, allowing the game to have 64,000 levels without requiring a hefty memory upgrade. So even after the Captive is freed, there is plenty more to see and do.

As you play, the nasties you encounter get increasingly tougher, so you must make your ‘bots tougher too. Each of their limbs can be replaced with better ones, though the capacity of the torso’s power source must not be exceeded. The droids’ skills must also be improved if they are to make use of the more advanced weaponry found later in the game.

A great premise excellently executed by the legendary Tony Crowther, if you’re a fan of this kind of game, Captive really should not be missed.

#11 – Kick Off

Released: 1989
Developer: Dino Dini
Publisher: Anco
Genre: Football Simulation

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The release of Kick Off coincided with my rebirth as a football fan. At nine years old, my Mum took me to St. Andrews to watch Birmingham City concede a late equaliser to West Bromwich Albion in a 1-1 draw. Ironically, as I took my first step in the life of anguish and pain that is being a Blues fan, Kick Off was filling my gaming life with … pain and anguish.

You see, Kick Off is a rare breed amongst football games: gone is the zoomed out view enabling you to see what’s going on, and gone is the sedate pace allowing you to ponder your next move, and most significantly, gone are the player friendly sticky boots that feature in virtually every footy game ever conceived. If you turn your player willy-nilly, you can not expect the ball to follow. Expert timing is expected at all times, as you can only turn when the ball is directly at your feet.

Kick Off is fast, furious and bollock hard (especially for an eight year old brought up on Emlyn Hughes International Soccer) but ultimately extremely rewarding. Each goal is earned through blood, sweat, tears and the aforementioned ninja timing.

Unfortunately lacking the after-touch control of later iterations (you will have to boot up the Extra Time expansion for that luxury), more than a little buggy and slow-down never more than a goal-mouth scramble away, Kick Off is far from perfect, but that excitement I felt when first playing this, eight years of age at my uncle’s house is still tangible to this day.

This list is a game of ten tenths, on to the next! (#10-6) ->

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